Startups haven’t replaced India’s 19th century Dabbawala service

I am not one bit surprised to read this article.

Whatever be the technology, they are the original creators of efficient delivery of food across Mumbai.Infact, they are fairly efficient users of food transport technology like local trains, bicycles, a cart where multiple food dabbas are kept and so on. In this era, we don’t consider trains, bicycles as technologies but they were fairly advanced ones earlier. Today’s technology like apps etc can just think of fancy ways to make some food/cab service to your mobiles. But they have still not figured the most important aspect of delivering at low cost and at right time.

Hence, after some initial hype over such launches the reality sinks in and lots of money is lost:

More than 400 food delivery apps started up in India over the past three years, raising $120 million from venture capital firms and other investors. Luring customers with photos of tasty curries along with discounts and free delivery, they sought to disrupt the delivery networks that have existed in India since the 1890s, including Mumbai’s famously low-tech dabbawalas, who ferry 175,000 meals—some from cooks’ homes, others from central kitchens—to office workers and students daily. The time-tested deliverymen carry boxes via trains, bicycles, and pushcarts to their hungry clients, using a system of alphanumeric codes printed on reusable containers.

The new services offered something dabbawalas don’t: last-minute ordering and the ability to choose dishes from hundreds of restaurants. Dabbawalas require a monthly commitment, and customers are locked into a meal plan for the entire period. Even so, most of the high-tech startups have foundered, and dozens have closed. The ones that are surviving, including TinyOwl and Foodpanda Hellofood’s India unit, are shrunken versions of their former selves. “The story was glorious when they had lots of money in the bank, but they went madly after customer growth and spent it quickly,” says Anil Joshi, an investor and founder of Unicorn India Ventures in Mumbai, who didn’t invest in food delivery companies.

Meanwhile, the dabbawalas appear to be busier than ever. While they have no apps, they’ve managed to retain market share. And they’re jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon themselves—by lending delivery staff to companies such as giant e-tailer Flipkart and offering training programs for new tech-enabled merchandise delivery startups such as Roadrunnr.

If that same money was instead given to dabaawalas for their thankless services to the city, it can really help their families as well.

One Response to “Startups haven’t replaced India’s 19th century Dabbawala service”

  1. Avni Mehra Says:

    The Dabbawala’s system has been efficient and economic since it first started. They have even started with Roti Bank where they distribute the leftover food to less fortunate and nedy.

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